|Three different winners have already celebrated victory in the opening four races of the 2018 Bennetts British Superbike Championship as defending champion Shane ‘Shakey’ Byrne and fierce title rival Leon Haslam shared the wins in a hectic second round at the Brands Hatch Indy circuit in Kent.
Home hero Byrne had been gunning to return to the top step after 20-year-old Bradley Ray completed a double victory at the season opener. The Be Wiser Ducati rider started alongside him on the grid, and the six-time champion became embroiled in a race-long battle with his local rival in the opening clash of the day.
Ray had produced a lightning start off the line to lead Byrne and Haslam on the opening lap as the Buildbase Suzuki rider led the freight train of riders. The leading pair was soon edging ahead at the front of the pack as the local heroes battled for race one supremacy.
Meanwhile Haslam in third place was coming under fire from the chasing trio of Jason O’Halloran, Christian Iddon and Michael Laverty, who had all been locked in a grudge match to close the gap on the JG Speedfit Kawasaki rider in third place.
O’Halloran was able to make a decisive move to edge into third place on lap 14 and the Honda Racing contender held off a counter attack from Haslam in the closing stages with Iddon completing the top five for Tyco BMW.
Jake Dixon moved his way up the order to sixth position, just ahead of Glenn Irwin and Laverty, who dropped to eighth in the closing stages of the race with Tommy Bridewell and Peter Hickman completing the top ten.
However race two saw the JG Speedfit Kawasaki celebrate their first victory of the season with Haslam, as the ‘Pocket Rocket’ mastered the damp conditions to become the third different race winner, holding off the attack from Irwin and Laverty to have the edge by just 0.367s at the chequered flag.
Ray had taken the advantage at the start of the race, leading the field into Paddock Hill Bend for the first time ahead of Haslam, Dixon, Byrne and Iddon, but the race was red flagged on the seventh lap when rain began to fall.
On the restart Haslam took the advantage off the line from Richard Cooper and Iddon with Dixon in close contention.
It wasn’t long before Haslam and Cooper began to trade blows as the pair continued to swap places in their quest to remain at the head of the field.
By lap three Cooper was ahead and Haslam wasn’t giving in, but the JG Speedfit Kawasaki rider was soon under attack from Dixon, who moved ahead before the ‘Pocket Rocket’ repaid the move.
Cooper’s race ended prematurely as he crashed out at Clearways on the seventh lap, ending his hopes of making amends for his race one slide off.
At the front Haslam had the lead, but Laverty closed in and made a move with a dive down the inside into Paddock Hill Bend on the ninth lap to take the advantage for Tyco BMW.
Dixon was fighting to move up the order, but the RAF Regular & Reserves Kawasaki rider crashed out unhurt at Graham Hill Bend.
Laverty had the edge, but Irwin was closing in and moved ahead of Haslam. Irwin made a decisive pass at Druids to capture the lead on with two laps to go, but on the final lap he had a moment which gave Haslam the momentum he needed to move into the lead at Surtees and hold off his Be Wiser Ducati rival to the finish line with Laverty claiming third place, to become the fifth different podium finisher of the season.
Byrne had to settle for fourth ahead of Josh Brookes, who had a resurgent race two for McAMS Yamaha as he forced his way ahead of Iddon and championship leader Ray in the closing stages of the race.
Tommy Bridewell held off rookie Tarran Mackenzie who scored his first top ten finish in ninth place ahead of another rookie, Carl Phillips on the Gearlink Kawasaki.
Bennetts British Superbike Championship, Brands Hatch, Race One result:
- Shane Byrne (Be Wiser Ducati)
- Bradley Ray (Buildbase Suzuki) +0.837s
- Jason O’Halloran (Honda Racing) +2.412s
- Leon Haslam (JG Speedfit Kawasaki) +2.863s
- Christian Iddon (Tyco BMW) +5.101s
- Jake Dixon (RAF Regular & Reserves Kawasaki) +6.673s
- Glenn Irwin (Be Wiser Ducati) +7.521s
- Michael Laverty (Tyco BMW) +8.037s
- Tommy Bridewell (Movuno.com Halsall Racing Suzuki) +8.247s
- Peter Hickman (Smiths Racing BMW) +8.383s
Bennetts British Superbike Championship, Brands Hatch, race two result:
- Leon Haslam (JG Speedfit Kawasaki)
- Glenn Irwin (Be Wiser Ducati) +0.367s
- Michael Laverty (Tyco BMW) +0.598s
- Shane Byrne (Be Wiser Ducati) +7.733s
- Josh Brookes (McAMS Yamaha) +12.808s
- Christian Iddon (Tyco BMW) +13.570s
- Bradley Ray (Buildbase Suzuki) +14.263s
- Tommy Bridewell (Movuno.com Halsall Racing Suzuki) +15.248s
- Tarran Mackenzie (McAMS Yamaha) +15.307s
- Carl Phillips (Gearlink Kawasaki) +23.240s
Bennetts British Superbike Championship standings after Brands Hatch:
- Bradley Ray (Buildbase Suzuki) 79
- Shane Byrne (Be Wiser Ducati) 69
- Leon Haslam (JG Speedfit Kawasaki) 65
- Glenn Irwin (Be Wiser Ducati) 48
- Michael Laverty (Tyco BMW) 36
- Christian Iddon (Tyco BMW) 33
The next round of the 2018 Bennetts British Superbike Championship take place at Oulton Park on May 5/6/7. For more information visit www.britishsuperbike.com